Quantcast

The Nation

New Poll: Hillary Over McCain

A new poll from Newsweek has some interesting data on Hillary Clinton's electability. According to the poll, Hillary beats John McCain 50 to 43 percent, squeaks by Rudy Giuliani 48 to 47 percent and trounces Mitt Romney, 58 to 32 percent. Her presumptive rival, Barack Obama, narrowly loses to McCain and Giuliani but thumps Romney as well, 55 to 25 percent.

It's important to take this poll, and every other one you'll see until Labor Day, with a grain of salt. Remember when Joe Lieberman was atop the '04 field? Or Howard Dean was at 1 percent? The public knows very little about candidates like Obama and Romney. No one can predict exactly how a Hillary candidacy will play or whether Obama can live up to the hype.

That said, Hillary's lead over McCain is interesting because of what it says about him. In previous polls the Senator from Arizona has handily defeated his Democratic opponents. But in recent months his numbers have begun to fall. Among independent voters, he's slipped 15 points since March.

Even McCain admits that only 15 to 18 percent of Americans support his plan to escalate the war in Iraq by sending more troops. Once more Americans learn about his dogged support for the war--and busy courtship of the religious right--they may form a different opinion of the so-called maverick.

A Near-Miss Nuclear Explosion

In March 2005, a nuclear warhead almost exploded in Texas. The near miss accident occurred in Amarillo, when workers at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant bungled the dismantling of a W-56 warhead, a weapon 100 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

Details of the averted catastrophe have been kept under wraps until last month, when the Department of Energy (DOE) fined the company that operates the plant, BWX Technologies, $110,000 for safety violations.

In a letter obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), technicians at the plant blamed the accident on severe working conditions, including mandatory 72 to 84 hour work weeks. One nuclear scientist told POGO that he "would not work on his car engine if he were fatigued from a 72-hour work week, and sure as hell would not work on a nuclear weapon."

Besides hellish hours, workers described the "degrading" physical state of the plant in the letter to the BWX board. "Look around the plant. You will find leaking roofs, crumbling buildings, waist-high weed-infested landscapes, barricades and safety tape that makes this once-proud plant look like a crime scene."

In 2007, production goals at the plant will increase by 50 percent, which POGO calls a "recipe for disaster." Clearly it's time for the DOE to step in and show that the government is serious about nuclear security, both abroad and at home.

Fat Cats 2007

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."    --Warren Buffett

The divide between rich and poor in America has never been greater. And Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs just widened that divide. The firm is lavishing its bankers, traders and stockbrokers with more than $16.5 billion in end-of-year bonus loot--the most ever doled out by a Wall Street firm.

Most of the Wall Street trading houses had a profitable year , but Goldman's was spectacular--or, rather, obscenely spectacular: Its profits climbed 70 percent to $9.5 billion, up from $5.6 billion last year.

The fattest of Goldman Sachs's fat cats are reported to be hauling in a cool $25 million each. (And some reports say that at least 25 of its "hottest" managers will each take home $100 million bonuses.)

These are times when the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans (see the 2006 Forbes 400 list)-- a record-breaking $1.25 trillion--is about the same cumulative wealth of half the US population, numbering 57 million households.

These are also times that cry out for smart, big and bold economic policies--ones that can save America's democracy before it tips, forever, into plutocracy. Right now, it teeters on the edge.

In 2007 The Nation will launch a series--laying out the "first principles" of a bold alternative economic policy. Our focus: building a full employment economy; debunking the obsession with deficit reduction-- in favor of a wise and massive public investment in our decaying public infrastructure; crafting an internationalist fair trade agenda for the 21st century, and much more.

But for now, and in the holiday spirit, let me propose that Goldman Sachs consider making the following holiday gift: Sponsor a "Wall Street Fairness Tax." Tell Robert Rubin about it. Convince him that in this populist moment, economic royalists--ones Franklin Roosevelt would have thrown out of DC--would be wise to remember what that great leader said in his second inaugural address: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

The details of such a tax can be found at Jonathan Tasini's smart web column, "Working in America" on tompaine.com. Essentially it would be 0.25 percent of the value of a stock trade--or, and this is my suggestion, a similar percentage of one of Goldman Sachs's investment deals. This tax would generate significant revenues--revenues which could be used for either a tax cut for middle or lower-income people or for desperately needed domestic programs. (I welcome hearing from economists, citizens and activists who have innovative ideas about value-added elements of such a Wall Street Fairness Tax.)

For the fat cats of Goldman Sachs, this holiday, the question couldn't be clearer: Are you defenders of plutocracy--or democracy?

An Executive Branch Assault on the Constitution

The Bush Administration's Department of Defense is examining whether it has the power to break a strike at tire plants that supply the military.

The Constitution affords the executive branch no such authority. But, as should be obvious by now, the current Administration has little regard for the founding document.

"The US Army is considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Kansas in the face of a looming shortage of tires for Humvee trucks and other military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan," reported the Financial Times on December 15. "A strike involving 17,000 members of the United Steelworkers union has crippled 16 Goodyear plants in the US and Canada since October 5."

This is no small matter, as a similar dispute in the early 1950s provoked one of the most significant constitutional crises of modern times.

In April 1952, when a dispute between the nation's steel companies and the United Steel Workers of America union threatened to disrupt production at more than eighty steel mills, President Harry Truman issued an executive order that the plants be seized.

The President argued that he had the power to do so because the country was engaged in the Korean War, claiming that he acted "by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States."

Truman had an expansive view of executive powers during wartime, as was evidenced during his April 17, 1952, press conference, where a reporter asked: "Mr. President, if you can seize the steel mills under your inherent powers, can you, in your opinion, also seize the newspapers and, or, the radio stations?"

"Under similar circumstances," claimed Truman, "the President of the United States has to act for whatever is for the best of the country. That's the answer to your question."

In fact, Truman was wrong on both political and constitutional grounds. As with the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Korean fight had been entered into without a declaration of war by Congress--the bloody conflict was described vaguely as a "police action." Even if a declaration of war had been made, there was little reason to believe that Truman had the authority that he said was his. Without such a declaration, there was no question that he was claiming powers that were not his to exercise.

Republican members of Congress, led by Ohioan George Bender, moved to impeach Truman. Bender declared, "I do not believe that our people can tolerate the formation of a presidential precedent which would permit any occupant of the White House to exercise his untrammeled discretion to take over the industry, communications system or other forms of private enterprise in the name of 'emergency.'"

The articles of impeachment against Truman that were submitted by Bender drew national attention, and support from publications such as the Chicago Tribune. As the drive picked up steam--with Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen telling a national radio audience that Congress had a responsibility to act--the Supreme Court quickly announced that it would take up the matter.

A court consisting of Justices appointed by Truman and his Democratic predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, forced Truman to back down. The ruling in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) explicitly restricted the authority of the President to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated powers under Article Two of the Constitution or statutory authority approved by the Congress.

"The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times," Justice Hugo Black wrote, on behalf of the court's majority. "It would do no good to recall the historical events, the fears of power and the hopes for freedom that lay behind their choice. Such a review would but confirm our holding that this seizure order cannot stand."

In his brilliant concurrence, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, "A constitutional democracy like ours is perhaps the most difficult of man's social arrangements to manage successfully. Our scheme of society is more dependent than any other form of government on knowledge and wisdom and self-discipline for the achievement of its aims. For our democracy implies the reign of reason on the most extensive scale. The Founders of this Nation were not imbued with the modern cynicism that the only thing that history teaches is that it teaches nothing. They acted on the conviction that the experience of man sheds a good deal of light on his nature. It sheds a good deal of light not merely on the need for effective power, if a society is to be at once cohesive and civilized, but also on the need for limitations on the power of governors over the governed. To that end they rested the structure of our central government on the system of checks and balances. For them the doctrine of separation of powers was not mere theory; it was a felt necessity."

Noting the recent struggle against German fascism, Frankfurter argued that the wisdom of the Founders had been confirmed. "Not so long ago it was fashionable to find our system of checks and balances obstructive to effective government. It was easy to ridicule that system as outmoded--too easy," the Justice explained. "The experience through which the world has passed in our own day has made vivid the realization that the Framers of our Constitution were not inexperienced doctrinaires. These long-headed statesmen had no illusion that our people enjoyed biological or psychological or sociological immunities from the hazards of concentrated power.... The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."

Frankfurter's words ring true across history to address the current circumstance, as do those of George Bender and the members of the House whose move to impeach Truman highlighted the need for judicial intervention: "our people [cannot] tolerate the formation of a presidential precedent which would permit any occupant of the White House to exercise his untrammeled discretion to take over the industry, communications system or other forms of private enterprise in the name of 'emergency.'"

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Richardson Slams McCain

Bill Richardson knows a thing or two about foreign policy. The current New Mexico Governor served as US ambassador to the UN and Energy Secretary under Bill Clinton and successfully negotiated with both Iraq and North Korea. Now he's thinking about running for President (or at least auditioning for VP). In New Hampshire today, Richardson sharply took umbrage with John McCain's plan to escalate the war in Iraq by sending more troops, which the Bush Administration is now seriously considering doing.

This excerpt from Richardson's speech, obtained by The Hotline, is well worth reading:

"The leading advocate for escalating the war is Senator John McCain. I have served with John in Congress and I respect him. But John McCain is wrong, dead wrong to think that we can solve Iraq's political crisis through military escalation."

"There are no quick or easy answers to the crisis in Iraq. Our choices are between bad options and worse ones. Some prefer military escalation. Some choose staying the course. These options are illusions. The only realistic choice we have is to stand down militarily and let the Iraqis stand up and face the political crisis which only they can resolve."

"I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I worked in this region...we should harbor no illusions. This withdrawal will not be pretty. People will die. But fewer will die than if we stay. There are no guarantees that our departure will end the civil war, but it is sure to continue so long as we stay. The Iraqis might, or might not, resolve their political crisis. It is up to them. They distrust and fear one another, and this makes it very tough. But they share one goal – they don't want to destroy their own country. To save it, they need to stop killing each other and start compromising. And we need to get out of the way."

The Prostitution of Our Politics

A great documentary aired this week on the Discovery Times network called Taking the Hill. It recounts the stories of four veterans running for Congress as Democrats in '06. It's a moving portrayal of sacrifice and service. It's also a probing look at what one candidate, Rick Bolanos, calls "the prostitution of our political system," the need to constantly raise an ever-increasing amount of campaign cash.

We see how Eric Massa, a Naval officer brimming with passion from upstate New York, is forced to spend four to five hours a day cold-calling strangers to ask for money. "I've raised more money in this Congressional campaign than I made in my entire military career," Massa says.

It's never enough. The campaign professionals in Washington don't judge Massa based on his record of service or what he thinks about policy issues. It's all about money. They view his campaign, and all the others, as a giant ATM. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee even tries to recruit a human resources downsizer to run for the same seat.

The tragedy of this story in particular is that VA budgets get cut while the price of campaigns skyrocket. Imagine if we took even a small percentage of what campaigns cost nowadays and gave it to our soldiers. Now that would be supporting the troops.

Legislation Watch: Immigration Reform

With the arrests of hundreds of immigrant workers at meatpacking plants in six states this week – which United Food and Commercial Workers union spokeswoman Jill Cashen rightly pointed out was "not a systematic way to address the deep problems plaguing the immigration system" – the pressures on the new Congress to pass immediate immigration reform will be even greater. Many activists, labor and immigration rights groups, analysts and pundits believe that some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill will find bipartisan support.

But there is a much better alternative for a humane and rational immigration policy.

Last year, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee – the new Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims – introduced the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act. She described her legislation to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!: "My bill attempted to craft this as a civil rights issue, and that is, to give a sense of fairness to individuals who had been in this country and had worked and paid taxes and wanted to come from under the shadows. And it provided the earned access to legalization with English conversance, the idea of working, investment in the community, family and community service and no felon record. We also provided for family unification. We provided for the DREAM Act, so the children could go to school. We eliminated or provided penalties for the utilization of fraudulent documents, for the abuse of women, for the abuse of workplace, which would take advantage of those who are undocumented. We insisted that employees provided a safe workplace and a workplace with dignity and equal rights. We also provided for the anti-smuggling provisions, that would stop the coyotes from bringing individuals across the border and causing danger to their lives." Jackson-Lee also introduced the Rapid Response Border Protection Act to add border patrol agents and the state-of-the-art equipment needed for enforcement through means much more reliable and less inflammatory than building a wall.

After millions of immigrants demonstrated across the nation in the spring, The Nation ran a lead editorial suggesting that comprehensive reform must address "…family reunification; a solution to the visa backlog, now at 6.2 million and counting; and the coveted ‘path to citizenship' that allows immigrant workers to build lives with a future." The Jackson-Lee legislation accomplishes that and it has the support of many leading labor, Latino, and African-American advocacy groups.

But neither Jackson-Lee's legislation – nor even the House version of the McCain-Kennedy bill – were allowed to be debated in the draconian Republican Congress. Certainly the new House will have a much greater respect for the diversity of ideas offered by our representatives. And with Subcommittee Chairs drawn from Congressional Progressive Caucus members such as Jackson-Lee, Jerry Nadler, Lynn Woolsey, Dennis Kucinich, Ed Markey, Jan Schakowsky, Raul Grijalva, Hilda Solis, Melvin Watt, Luis Gutierrez, Jim McGovern, Pete Stark, Jose Serrano, John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Jim McDermott and others – there will be many opportunities for thorough consideration of progressive, forward-thinking policies.

Radio Is Wrecked--But It Can Be Repaired

The Future of Music Coalition [FMC], the alliance of musicians and music fans that conducts the nuts-and-bolts research on media consolidation that should be done by the Federal Communications Commission, has completed a groundbreaking study documenting the damage done to American culture by consolidation of radio-station ownership.

The report confirms what is already known, at least anecdotally, by anyone who has tried to listen to the radio since Congress, with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, essentially eliminated controls on the number of stations that can be owned by a single company. That change opened the way for Clear Channel Radio to expand from a relatively small company with a few dozen radio stations into a media conglomerate that now controls more than 1,200 stations nationwide.

Radio listeners and media activists have known for a long time that the one-size-fits-all-markets approach of Clear Channel and other big radio firms is no good for the public discourse or the culture.

Unfortunately, the FCC and Congress have resisted reform, claiming that consolidation is, if not good, at least benign.

The FMC report, "False Premises, False Promises: A Quantitative History of Ownership Consolidation in the Radio Industry," confirms that listeners, musicians and activists have, indeed, been right to conclude that something is very wrong with consolidated radio.

"Radio consolidation has no demonstrated benefits for the public. Nor does it have any demonstrated benefits for the working people of the music and media industries, including DJs, programmers and musicians. The Telecom Act unleashed an unprecedented wave of radio mergers that left a highly consolidated national radio market and extremely consolidated local radio markets. Radio programming from the largest station groups remains focused on just a few formats--many of which overlap with each other, enhancing the homogenization of the airwaves," explains Peter DiCola, the FMC research director who wrote the report.

DiCola, one of the country's most respected analysts of media ownership issues, adds, "From the recent new-payola scandal to the even more recent acknowledgments that giant media conglomerates have begun to fail as business models, we can see that government and business are catching up to the reality that radio consolidation did not work. Instead, the Telecom Act worked to reduce competition, diversity and localism, doing precisely the opposite of Congress's stated goals for the FCC's media policy. Future debates about how to regulate information industries should look to the radio consolidation story for a warning about the dangers of consolidated control of a media platform."

Among the specific conclusions of the report are that:

* The top four radio station owners have almost half of the listeners and the top ten owners have almost two-thirds of listeners. This means that a handful of companies control what the overwhelming majority of Americans hear on the radio.

* The "localness" of radio ownership--ownership by individuals who live in the community--declined by almost one-third between 1975 and 2005.

* Just fifteen formats make up three-quarters of all commercial programming. Moreover, radio formats with different names can overlap up to 80 percent of the time in terms of the songs played on them.

* Niche musical formats like classical, jazz, Americana, bluegrass, new rock and folk, where they exist, are provided almost exclusively by smaller station groups.

* Across 155 markets, radio listenership has declined over the past fourteen years, a 22 percent drop since its peak in 1989. The consolidation allowed by the Telecom Act has failed to reverse this trend. In fact, it may well have caused the trend to accelerate.

In addition to confirming the crisis, the Future of Music Coalition is making specific recommendations about how to address it. In particular, DiCola suggests that, while the FCC should certainly maintain the few ownership caps that remain in place, a case can be made for restoring more stringent caps on ownership--a move that could force the largest radio conglomerates to divest themselves of at least some of their stations.

"Ownership caps on radio-station ownership prevent concentration of economic, social and political power," argues DiCola, who explains that by the standard measures of such things, concentration of radio-station ownership has reached a high level in the national market and dangerous levels in most local markets.

DiCola says "the FCC could justify a lower cap" and argues that a host of other reforms are necessary to restore localism and diversity--both in content and in ownership--to a radio industry that is rapidly losing both of those precious commodities.

"Radio has great importance for our culture, our economy and our democracy," argues DiCola. "The public deserves to see it repaired."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Happier Holiday Shopping

Because I've written a lot about Wal-Mart,people are always asking me: Where should the socially-consciousconsumer shop? Sometimes, I resist the question. We don't makesignificant social change by shopping: the process requires far morepolitical engagement than that. And there are no pure choices -- life inthe marketplace is messy and brutal. But since we do love buying stuffand this is the biggest retail season of the year, it behooves us totake consumer politics seriously, and recommend some holiday purchasesfrom merchants who don't suck.

A (Truly) Green Christmas Tree

The OrganicConsumers Association (OCA) reports that Swedish researchers did anenergy comparison between plastic and natural Christmas trees, and foundthat the real tree used a fifth as much energy as an artificial one.Lots of people assume that a plastic tree would be more environmentallyfriendly because it is re-usable, but that's not so: artificial treesare often made from PVC, an environmental toxin. Besides, Christmastrees grow well on soil that is inhospitable to other crops, and likeall trees, they produce oxygen and absorb CO2. Thank goodness for theSwedish researchers for -- are you listening, Bill O'Reilly? --defending the true sprit of Christmas: plastic trees are ugly anddepressing anyway! OCA recommends buying your tree from an organic farm-- many farmer's markets sell them -- or one grown with a low level ofpesticides (most likely, that'll be one local and native to your area),better for the health of the land, the farm workers and your family.

Sweat-Free Clothing

Bienestar International's clothing, sold under theNo Sweat label, is made by workers in independent unions, all over theworld. No Sweat is the most commendable entrepreneurial project of itskind, but for too long, its products lagged far behind American Apparelin cuteness. No Sweat has also suffered from pallid marketing (again,especially compared to American Apparel, which has been criticizedfor its retro-pornographicads, but its image isanything but boring). No Sweat may be catching up, slowly: check outthe (quite fetching) sneakers, pea coats and hats on itswebsite. In addition to the more inviting goods, No Sweat also seems tobe getting a bit savvier in its marketing strategies, offering holidaypackages of enticing fairly traded spa products.

Fair Trade Cocoa

What's better than a steaming hot cocoa in the winter,and what's more horrible than forced-labor conditions under which somuch chocolate is made? Such contradictions aren't always easilyresolved, but this one is. Equal Exchange -- a company which sourcesentirely from democratically-run farmer cooperatives in Latin America,Africa and Asia -- sells a fairly traded organichot cocoa on its website. Folks concerned about food miles willcomplain -- the cocoa is from the Dominican Republic, the sugar fromParaguay and the milk power from the United States -- but nothing inthis world is perfect, and Equal Exchange does a good job of combiningexcellent politics with high-quality product. ("Fair trade" means thatthe farmers received a price above the one set by the free market; ofcourse there is much debate over what a "fair" price really is, andwhether even "fair trade" brands are paying suppliers enough. If you'reinterested in delving into some of these complexities, I recommend theNew Internationalist's specialNovember issue on the subject. It isn't online yet, but I've justwritten to urge them to put it up as soon as possible.)

A Free Press

You love reading free stuff on the Internet, but you knowreal journalism -- and any high-quality printed matter -- needs money tosurvive. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that a Nation subscriptionmakes a great gift. You knew that. I'd also highlyrecommend Bitch for the feminist on your list (of any age).

I welcome further suggestions from readers.